On Facebook, Trump apologists are posting angry rebuttals to complaints about the administration’s incompetent response to the Coronavirus pandemic. You can’t blame a president for a disease! This could have happened during any administration! Your criticism is just an example of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Etc.
(I like to think of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” as an accurate description of the Dear Leader’s mental state, but I assume that isn’t what his base intends it to mean…)
Although it is absolutely true that no president can control the timing or severity of a pandemic, a paragraph in Dana Milbank’s column Thursday in the Washington Post actually, factually, described many of the ways in which the Deranged One has made this pandemic much worse for Americans than it should have been.
Milbank neglected to mention what was by far Trump’s worst decision; in his zeal to undo anything and everything his black predecessor had done, early in his administration Trump eliminated the team Obama had charged with preparing for pandemics–and he didn’t replace them, despite several warnings that such a pandemic was likely.
There was also no mention of Trump’s inexplicable–and unforgivable– refusal to accept test kits offered by WHO.
Milbank did remind readers that Trump has depleted the government of scientific expertise–something I’ve repeatedly blogged about. He also noted that the President has done “little to heed warnings to prepare for a pandemic”– a needlessly gentle way of describing Trump’s hostility to people who know what they are talking about, and his absolute refusal to listen to anyone about anything, expert or not.
Milbank says that Trump blocked Congress from conducting meaningful oversight. That actually might be unfair; Trump is so inept when it comes to dealing with Congress, he could not have blocked oversight without the slavish assistance of Mitch McConnell (aka the most evil man in America) and the Congressional GOP. But Milbank is clearly correct about Trump’s repeated efforts to cut funding for public health and medical research, and about the way in which the chaos and constant turnover in the administration has eroded competence.
His reckless stimulus legislation during an economic boom and his badgering of the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates left few fiscal and monetary tools to stop the ongoing economic panic. His constant stream of falsehoods misled the nation about the threat of the virus and contributed to a delayed, haphazard response. His administration badly misjudged the impact of the virus and was claiming until just a couple of weeks ago that it would require no additional government spending.
Milbank is also correct when he asserts that the bungled handling of the virus is exactly the sort of mismanagement that should disqualify Trump from reelection. But tell that to the bigots and crazies who support him.
Apocalyptic narratives – whether of societal collapse, biblical rapture, or race war – are the central way that the a spectrum of far-right movements draw in followers and resources. These narratives use fear to draw followers closer, allowing leaders to direct their followers’ actions, and maybe fleece them blind.
The article details the responses of people and groups on the fringes of politics and sanity–Alex Jones, the survivalists, the televangelists hawking “sure cures,” and Trump’s biggest fans, the Neo-Nazis.
Farther out on the neo-Nazi right, in the Telegram channels where “accelerationists” – who seek to hasten the end of liberal democracy in order to build a white ethnostate – overlap with “ecofascists” – who propose genocidal solutions to ecological problems – groups are openly talking about how to use the crisis to recruit people to terroristic white supremacy.
And of course, the far-right is feverishly concocting conspiracy theories about the causes and origins of the virus–theories that scapegoat immigrants, minorities and liberals. (Alex Jones, for example, claims that Covid-19 is a human-made bioweapon, produced by the Chinese government to bring Trump down.)
Most Americans are responding to this unprecedented challenge with generosity and kindness–looking in on neighbors, buying gift certificates from closed restaurants to provide owners with some much-needed income, sharing credible information and comfort. Then there are are the Trump apologists–those simply refusing to hold him accountable for the government’s delayed and incompetent response, and those inventing theories that absolve him of responsibility while further endangering the rest of us.
Maybe it takes a pandemic to show us who we are.